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Resident Mary Ellen Barilotti gives testimony to the county commission during a public hearing on the STR ordinance Monday.

After nearly nine months of deliberation, Hood River County officially amended its Short Term Rental (STR) Regulations, following a divided Board of Commissioners vote Monday evening. The ordinance will go into effect June 20.

“It’s been a long process. I hope it’s over,” said Chair Mike Oates after the ordinance was approved.

The ordinance was approved by a 4-1 margin, with Commissioner Bob Benton as the single dissenting vote.

In explaining his position, Benton reiterated his concerns with the language of the ordinance and the process that led to it.

“I feel that we were strongly bullied by a fundamentalist land-use organization and the community and I think that it sets a bad precedent for moving forward in Hood River County to bend because of that kind of pressure,” he said. “I understand the financial cost that will be incurred through that process, but I think it’s very unfortunate and I think that it’s a bad decision for us to move forward based on that pressure.”

Hood River County first enacted its STR regulations in December 2016, with plans to revisit them in December 2018 to make any necessary changes, but the commission began the process of amending the regulations in August 2018, following a number of appeals made by the Hood River Valley Residents Committee (HRVRC) — which has since re-branded itself as Thrive Hood River.

“I think we started with a good ordinance that I believed in — I had compromised a lot at that point, and at this point, I can’t compromise anymore,” Benton said. “So, it’s just really frustrating from my perspective, the process that we’ve gone through in the last year, and I wish our original ordinance would have had time to be implemented.”

Commissioner Karen Joplin responded, “I feel our original ordinance had some strong potential and I am disappointed it did not have the opportunity to be fully vetted and implemented. I think that it would have been a successful pathway and I worry about the future around enforcement issues and our budget crisis that we’re still in, I see additional challenges with this issue of short term rentals in our community.”

The primary issue cited in HRVRC’s appeals was the residency requirement, which only required owners to be in a dwelling for 30-days out of the year to be considered a resident. The new regulations will require STR operators to prove full-time residency (see sidebar for details).

“We at Thrive Hood River advocated for a stronger residency requirement to be instituted to comply with state regulations and help preserve the housing space for local residents, while still allowing STRs for truly local resident operators,” said Dale Hill, president of Thrive Hood River, during Monday’s public hearing.

“It has been a long and strenuous road to get to this point,” he continued. “We are in support of adopting the language being considered in tonight’s second reading. While it does not represent all of what we felt would be ideal, it addresses our core concern of residency and also that of a large number of residents within the county.

“It is our desire to work positively with the county whenever possible, and to be an ally in making the county a better place to live. We applaud the persistence shown by staff and the board in looking at this matter from many perspectives.”

Benton also cited concerns with the language included in the ordinance as reason for his “no” vote — particularly citing elimination of a grandfathering clause — included in an earlier draft of the ordinance, but eventually cut due to concerns with state law — that would have excluded current STR operators from the new regulations.

Oates said that he understood Benton’s concerns and added, “It bothers me too on the grandfathering process. I would hope in the future, if we have proposals come forward before us concerning land use issues, that we get a good clear perspective from our land use attorney before we go forward and know whether or not we’re meeting the criteria of the state laws.”

Commissioner Les Perkins responded, “I know it’s frustrating for property owners who either have had vacation rentals or were planning on having them — it was a long period of time of uncertainty. And well, no, it’s not the outcome that I was hoping for in a lot of ways, I’m glad to finally get to a conclusion and give everybody certainty.”